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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XXXIV - Cudbear, Turkey Red, and Bleaching Powder


A NATURAL sequence to the development of printfields at Glasgow was the provision of dyes for their use. Of these dyes the earliest had a history that is one of the romances of industry.

Among those who left the Highlands to seek fortune in London in the middle of the eighteenth century was a member of the Gordon clan. By trade he was a copper and tinsmith, and one of the jobs he presently got to do was to repair a copper boiler in a dye factory. The specialty of the place was the making of Archella or Orseille dye, an ancient Italian craft said to have been brought to England from Florence. As he went about the factory it dawned upon Gordon that he had seen the process carried out in his own native glen in the Highlands. Its basis was the same crottal, or rock-lichen, which he had gathered when a boy for the dyeing of the sheep's wool at his mother's fireside, and the colour produced, which had enriched the robes of the artistic Florentine and Roman nobles, was in no way different from that which had stained the plaids and arisaids of his own remote ancestors. He consulted a nephew, Cuthbert Gordon, then studying chemistry, who arrived at the same conclusion. Further, in the course of his experiments the young man discovered a process for extracting the dye in concentrated form. To this dye, in honour of the discoverer, they gave his name in a modified style "Cudbear," and, proceeding to Leith, they started works for its manufacture, After a time, probably for want of sufficient capital, the business proved unsuccessful. Just then, however, it attracted the attention of another Highlander.

George Macintosh was the fourth son of a farmer at Roskeen in Ross-shire, where he was born in 1739. Attracted by the rumour of fortunes being won in Glasgow, he made his way south, and found employment as a junior clerk in the great tannery on the Molendinar. That "prodigious large building," as McUre calls it, not only manufactured leather, it also manufactured shoes, on a great scale, employing in 1773 as many as seven hundred shoemakers; [Glasgow Herald, 27th Nov. 1861.] and a considerable part of the fortunes of its partners, among whom were some of the most notable merchants of the city, such as Speirs of Elderslie, Glassford of Dougalston, Bogle of Daldowie, and Campbell of Clathic, had been realized from the profits of this business. By the time he was thirty-four Macintosh was at the head of a rival enterprise, with five hundred workmen in his shoe factory. He had also an interest in a glasswork, and he engaged to some extent in the West India trade. But he found his most congenial field presently in an undertaking which reminded him of his early home in the north. In the Messrs. Gordon's process of making dye from the lichens of the Highlands he saw the possibilities of a great industry, and forthwith proceeded to turn it to account.

Securing wealthy partners, he in 1777 purchased some seventeen acres of land in the Easter Craigs, beyond the Molendinar, and began the building of Glasgow's first "secret work." The place was surrounded with a ten foot wall; the mansion which Macintosh built for his own residence within it he named Dunchattan, in allusion to his own clan; and around him within the walls he established a colony of Highland workmen, some of whom are said to have lived and died there without learning the English language. The Gordons, uncle and nephew, whom he brought from Leith, attended to the actual making of

the cudbear, while Macintosh himself was the business manager. So great became the demand for the dye that the works consumed 250 tons of the lichen annually, the supplies in this country were exhausted, and the supplies from Norway and Sweden rose in price from to £25, and in war times even £45, per ton. These countries are calculated to have received, while their lichen was in demand, as much as £306,000. [Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, p. 68.]

The cudbear industry was liable to a very serious objection. It could not be carried on without the creation of a highly objectionable smell. The neighbourhood of Dunchattan House and Ark Lane was for that reason the least salubrious about the city, and it became a custom, in the drawing up of title-deeds of property in Scotland, to forbid the manufacture of cudbear to the feuar or purchaser.

But cudbear could only be used for the dyeing of silk and wool. It was of no use for cotton fabrics, and as cotton began to be imported in quantities from America, and the great cotton spinning and weaving industry of Glasgow began to grow, it became necessary to discover other means of imparting colour. The most interesting of the new dyes was adrianople or Turkey Red, so called from its oriental origin. The process of dyeing this beautiful colour is believed to have come, first of all, from India. It was unknown in this country till 1785, when George Macintosh brought from France a M. Papillon, who had practised the dyeing of Turkey Red at Rouen. In partnership with his friend, David Dale, Macintosh set up at Barrowfield the first Turkey Red dyework in Britain, and though Papillon left in a couple of years, and accepted payments to explain the process elsewhere, and though the Government announced that it had purchased the secret from another quarter, the Barrow-field works prospered amain, improved their processes, and became another of the great industries of Glasgow. The secret lay in the nature and number of the various baths in which the cotton was steeped to render it capable of absorbing and retaining the actual madder dye, and it was preserved, like the secret of making cudbear, behind high walls. The industry grew, with the growth of the cotton spinning and weaving industry, till the works were acquired in 1805 by one of the greatest of the cotton magnates, Henry Monteith of Carstairs, as an adjunct to his other enterprises. [Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, pp. 72-76. George Macintosh was a partner with David Dale in the famous cotton mills of Spinningdale, on the Dornoch Firth. He also took an active part in recruiting for the war against France. His first offer, in 1797, to raise a volunteer corps of Highlanders, was refused by the magistrates, who feared it might interfere with their own efforts. But three years later he helped substantially to fill the ranks of the Gordon Highlanders, of the 133rd and 78th regiments and the North Lowland Fencibles, and after the peace of Amiens, when war with France again broke out, he raised the Glasgow Highland Volunteers, 700 strong. Still later, in 1804, when the Canadian Fencibles mutineered in the city, it was his eloquent appeal, in Gaelic, which brought them back to duty. His wife, Mary Moore, was a sister of the author of Zeluco and aunt of Sir John Moore, and his son was the celebrated chemist who in 1786 introduced the making of sugar of lead, in 1797 set up the first Scottish alum work at Hurlet in Renfrewshire, in 1799 with Charles Tennant set up the St. Rollox works for making chloride of lime, discovered a process of converting iron into steel, and invented the method of waterproofing cloth which still perpetuates his name.—Strang, Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 148 note.]

It was this process of Turkey Red dyeing, introduced to their works at Cordale in the Vale of Leven in 1816 by William Stirling & Sons, which, as already mentioned, restored with conspicuous success the failing fortunes of that important Glasgow firm.

At the same time, with the growth of the great cotton industry, of which Glasgow was for half a century the headquarters in Britain, came a demand for improved means of bleaching the fabric. The method of bleaching linen, so far, had been primitive enough, and consisted in little more than a slow weathering—exposure to sunshine and the oxygen of the atmosphere. Months were required for the process, and the cloth suffered considerably while this was being carried out. A good deal of bleaching was done on Glasgow Green and the crofts below the Broomielaw. In Holland, to which the finer fabrics were sent for the purpose, there were steepings in soured milk, and boilings in caustic ley, which required months to carry out. A great discovery was that of the bleaching power of chlorine gas, made by Berthollet, the French chemist, but the gas was too volatile and poisonous for industrial purposes. It was known also that lime possessed strong bleaching powers, but its use destroyed the durability.of the cloth, and was forbidden by law under heavy penalties. It was left to a young bleacher in the neighbourhood of Glasgow to discover a practical process. [Curiosities of Glasgow Citizenship, p. 36.]

Charles Tennant was the fourth son of a farmer at Glenconner in Ayrshire, who had been present at the baptism of Robert Burns. His eldest brother was the poet's correspondent and "fellow-sinner," and he himself was mentioned in one of Burns's rhyming epistles

And no' forgettin' wabster Charlie,
I'm tauld he offers very fairly.

"Charlie" soon left the loom and, with a Paisley partner, set up a bleachfield at Darnley, a few miles south of Glasgow. There, it is said, he attracted the attention of a wealthy resident at hand, who noticed his diligence as, early in the morning and late at night, he persevered in his business of watering the cloth spread on the grass to be whitened. This Mr. Wilson of Hurlet invited the young man to his house, and presently Tennant married his daughter, an occurrence which no doubt helped to introduce him to the greater business circles of Glasgow. [Ibid. p. 42.]

By and by the young owner of the bleachfield, prosecuting his enquiries and experiments, made an important discovery. While lime and chlorine gas apart were equally impossible for practical bleaching purposes, he found that they had a special affinity for each other, and out of this combination he evolved a bleaching liquor which proved entirely successful and satisfactory. By its use the process which had previously required months to carry out could be completed in a few hours.

The economy was prodigious. It is said that in 1789, the year in which the discovery was introduced, no less a sum than £166,800 was saved to the linen bleachers in Ireland alone. In the flush of their gratitude the Trustees for the Promotion of the Irish Linen and Hemp Manufacture of Ireland voted £10,000 to the inventor, but not a penny of it reached Tennant's hands. [Burgh Records, 29th Jan., 26th Feb., 1801.] Later, in 1802, the bleachers of Lancashire combined to resist the payment for the use of the bleaching liquid demanded under the patent. Lord Ellenborough, who tried the case, declared Tennant's patent invalid by reason of some confusion in its specification, and the fact that one of the materials had been in previous use.

Meantime Tennant, with a number of partners, among whom was Charles Macintosh, son of the introducer of cudbear and Turkey Red, had set up a chemical factory at St. Rollox, to the north of Glasgow. The company secured a new, more carefully worded patent for bleaching powder to replace the bleaching liquor, and, under the energetic direction of the whilom "wabster Charlie," the St. Rollox works grew till they were the largest of their kind in Europe. [Curiosities of Citizenship, p. 40.] Out of these works was built, in the course of half a century, a great family fortune. Charles Tennant's grandson, another Charles, Lord Provost and Member of Parliament for the city, was created a baronet, and his son again received a peerage, taking the title, in allusion to his ancestor's farm in Ayrshire, of Lord Glenconner. One of his descendants became Duchess of Rutland, another Countess of Oxford and Asquith, and a third Lady Colquhoun of Luss.


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